To be clear, I've been thinking of leaving Facebook for awhile now. The idea of abandoning the personal/professional network I'd been cultivating for the longest amount of time (I've been on Facebook for over a decade and a smidge longer than Twitter) has been festering for over a year. Some of the reasons for leaving Facebook are deeply personal, others are more closely related to my work.The latter reasons are why I'm choosing to write about this decision here.
But first some context:
I envy people who stumble upon this post some time in the future when COVID19, the consequences of our slow, (often politically motivated), response to it, and perhaps even Facebook itself, will all be a memory. As I write this, however, all those things are very much a reality and played a role in my departure from what remains the world's most popular social network.
They say crises have a way bringing out the best and worst in us, which makes what I saw on social media following the announcement of mass COVID19 related school closings, unsurprising. Still, while probably predicable, as I watched "thought leaders" in education, with thousands and thousands of followers, take to the airwaves to do things like:
profit from the sudden and explosive need for support in moving to online learning.
Bemoan the loss of consulting work or travel expenses, while hourly workers around the world have lost their family's sole sources of income.
share posts about their own behavior defying the steps urged by the CDC to slow the spread of a virus that can be deadly for everyone, but especially for vulnerable populations.
praise politicians whose "guidance" contradicted those of scientists and other medical professionals on the front lines.
I found myself not simply feeling disappointed, but also spoiling for a fight: a fight I knew I couldn't win. A fight I knew would only add fuel to an already fast burning dumpster fire. A fight I knew would only make me look just as tone deaf and irresponsible as those I'd be fighting with.
And so, I walked away. For awhile, anyway.
At the same time this was going on, many universities also announced that classes were canceled for a bit, while they figured out how to move instruction online. I used this announcement from Rutgers as an opportunity to engage in a digital detox. Here's what this looked like for me:
I deleted all social media apps from my phone.
I stopped carrying my phone with me (around the house) and left it on the charger in my office.
I scheduled screen time throughout the day (planning work hours and actually stopped working when that window was over).
I filled the time with other things like taking walks, reading and napping.
I'll be honest, I went into this thinking it would be hard. And it was... for the first 24 hours. The urge to reach for my phone constantly took about a day to silence. After that, I started feeling some unexpected effects of distancing myself from the hoard;
I slept better: I'm not sure if it's because I replaced late night online activity with reading or just the fact that I was spending less time being shouted at by people I didn't know, but whatever the reason, reducing time on social media left me feeling more rested.
I felt less anxious; I've never been diagnosed with anxiety, so I don't want to diminish those with actual anxiety disorders by claiming to suffer with something I might not. However, I do recognize some signs of anxiety in myself and many of those, (inability to focus, racing thoughts, irrational worries, etc), seemed far more manageable without social media added to the mix.
I was more productive: To be sure, being quarantined gives a person a lot more time to tackle projects around the house, but I could have easily spent a bunch that time on social media. Not making that choice allowed me to do things that, frankly, felt more important.
I was more present in the real world: Not being distracted by the virtual world helped me reconnect with the world at arm's length.
An aside: of course, the teacher in me can't help but think about how this is work we can/should be doing as part of our media literacy work with kids. It will come as no surprise that I think lbrarians are uniquely positioned to help kids develop strategies for planning healthy information diets. I'll be thinking and writing more about this in the days to come, but in the meantime...
All along I planned to end my detox when my Rutgers courses resumed, but as that day grew near, the more I recognized that I didn't really want to go back to Facebook. At the beginning of this post I noted that some of my reasons for leaving FB were personal, so I'm leaving those out of this list. But here are the more universal reasons why having a presence there no longer works for me;
Unmoderated Groups: Groups on FB are a free for all. People create them, promote them, and then walk away. I find those unmoderated spaces untenable. In addition to all the fights I've seen unfold in those groups, what I find even more distressing is the number of posts shared as "best practices" that are, frankly, glaring examples of just the opposite. Plus as someone who was constantly being tagged in those spaces, I found I had to spend more time than I was willing to give untagging myself or unfollowing the discussion. Yuck.
Privacy (Or Lack Thereof): We've all decided, to some degree or another, that the benefits of online living outweigh the costs we all pay in terms of privacy. Facebook's lack of care with the personal data of its users has been well documented, so I won't spend time on that here. But again: yuck.
Parasitic political Ads: The straw that broke this librarian's back, however, lies in Facebook's stance on accepting political ads with false information. Again, this has been analyzed by bigger brains that mine, so I'll point you to that work instead of unpacking it again. However, as someone who has spent the last three years of my life devoted to the work of moving the needle on our collective lack of news and media literacy, I found it hard to be the "fake news lady" in a space that was willing to promote false narratives for the right price. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.
If you've read this far, you may already have a "yeah, but..." comment prepared, so let me address a couple of those:
Comment: "yeah, but... all social media is evil and toxic to some degree." Response: You're right! And we all have to pick the spaces that work best for us. Facebook no longer works for me. Comment: "yeah, but... Instagram is owned by FB and you are still there!" Response: Yep! FB continues to be the parent company of Instagram, but Insta maintains its own leadership team which, so far anyway, seems to have avoided total evil empire status. Comment: "yeah, but... I'm not connected with you anywhere else and I'm super sad now!" Response: Me too! Come find me elsewhere (if you want. No pressure!)
In all seriousness, I'm not writing this post to suggest that you (or anyone else) leave Facebook. I still truly believe that there's more good on social media than bad (although some days the scales tip dangerously in the wrong direction!). Plus, as educators, I believe we have a responsibility to understand how information works in these spaces if we're going to help our learners navigate them successfully. What's more, I recognize that my departure from Facebook will do nothing to affect the issues I've shared here. But what it does do is make me feel better. I don't miss Facebook. If I ever do, I may show up there again. But until then, I hope our paths continue to cross elsewhere.